Imagine a future in which your incoming phone calls, e-mail, and other communications are routed to the device nearest you. This vision of obedient communications is part of a larger unified messaging system that Microsoft will offer as a "service in the sky," a company executive said on Tuesday at the VoiceCon conference in San Francisco.
According to news reports, Microsoft group program manager Warren Barkley said this capability will be available to small businesses as a hosted service because they do not generally have the I.T. resources to support Office Communications Server 2007. No formal release date for the services was announced.
Gurdeep Singh Pall, a corporate vice president in Microsoft's Unified Communications Group, was quoted by PC World as saying that the service might be delivered by Microsoft alone or with partners.
Communications Server 2007
Microsoft also announced at VoiceCon that it will release Communications Server 2007, its desktop client called Office Communicator 2007, and a packaged version of Live Meeting, in mid-October.
The server, which was released as a beta in December, provides a platform for VoIP, e-mail, and video-conferencing. Together, the products will allow companies to move to coordinated IP-based communications without completely redoing their existing networks. Microsoft's unified communications products also include Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.
Unified communications as a service is consistent with a much larger software-as-service mantra that many Microsoft executives, starting with CEO Steve Ballmer, have been intoning in recent months. Microsoft's LiveMeeting, for instance, provides a hosted service, and the company is increasingly being pressured by hosted options from Google and others to disconnect software applications from residence on specific, local machines.
But between the vision and the reality sometimes falls chaos. That was the view presented by COMMfusion analyst Blair Pleasant at VoiceCon, according to news reports. She said the unified communications market can expect the dust to fly for several years as Microsoft enters the market in a big way, and as mergers and acquisitions populate the landscape. She envisioned that unified communications would reach the mainstream sometime between 2010 and 2012.
Microsoft and Cisco Collaboration
A key question is how unified the unified communications technologies will be. Earlier this week, Ballmer and Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers, for instance, held discussions on a stage in New York, where they talked about their cooperation amid their competition and outlined several areas of collaboration to promote interoperability.
One of those areas was unified communications. "Microsoft's approach is that software is the hub of all communications," the companies said in a statement, "and Cisco's approach is that the network is the hub of all communications," but they together share the goal of interoperability.
Of several specific efforts, the two companies announced betas of the Cisco Unified Communications Manager integrated with Microsoft's Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator, and said that they were planning a fall release for the interoperability.
The two companies acknowledged that, while they are making their products interoperable because customers demand it, they are still competitors. Cisco, for example, now owns WebEx, which offers its WebOffice communications applications as a service.